Hoteliers must avoid heavily slashing rates to draw in guests during the pandemic, or risk undervaluing their own hotel, according to Rotana’s president & CEO Guy Hutchinson.

Hutchinson, who oversees 68 properties, was taking part in the Leaders’ Panel of The GM Debate powered by Hotelier Middle East.

He warned that poor rate management is one of the industry’s greatest threats, saying: “One of the biggest challenges right now is making sure we don’t start undervaluing our destinations. We won’t win anything by doing that, and rate management of our destinations right now is absolutely critical.”

JA Hotels & Resorts CEO Anthony Ross added: “We’ve seen some pretty interesting rates in the market, it’s a very competitive time but that means that a lot of people who haven’t stayed in Dubai hotels before suddenly have the opportunity to do so.”

The panel also discussed the shift of guest profile and customer expectations. Asked by moderator, Hotelier Middle East’s Group Editor Paul Clifford, Ross went into detail on the new wave of hotel guests the industry has been seeing.

He explained: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the local support here in the UAE. For many years, our core customers have been European holidaymakers who would stay for 10 to 14 days. Now we’re seeing a shift towards the local population staying for just one or two nights.”

“These guests want to check into the room early and stay as late as they can. It’s seen a lot of families using our hotels to get the kids out of the house.”

The Leaders’ Panel wrapped with a question from the digital audience, asking whether hospitality groups should start working together more to help recover the industry as a whole.

Hilton president, Middle East, Africa & Turkey Jochem-Jan Sleiffer said: “There has been no better time for the industry to collaborate on promoting our destinations. The collaboration with the region’s tourism authorities, whether it be Saudi, Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Ras Al Khaimah, is key to get protocols in place to reassure travellers.”

Agreeing that collaboration is key was Accor COO MEA Marc Descrozaille, who said: “I think we can really get stronger and get out of all of this [COVID-19] together. We need to come up with some bright ideas together.”

Descrozaille concluded the discussion by calling on larger hotel groups to help out the smaller, more vulnerable hoteliers.

“Many of the smaller groups are working in isolation. There is a need to have conversations about best practices so everyone can learn. We can do much better as an industry if we’re more aligned together.”

You’ll be able to see the full panel via Hotelier Middle East soon.